Friday, October 28, 2011
In North Beach
Then Dude comes to a turning point in the song, singing:
I shot a man in Frisco
And he stops, a few folks laugh as if in on a joke, then he continues:
Just for callin it Frisco…
And Dude finishes the tune as some in the crowd applaud and laugh. Shana and I don’t even stay for a beer and walk out, hand in hand. She is wearing a short denim mini and a white peasant top and looks striking—at 5’9” tall she is curvy beyond imagination, crowned with that wild dark hair, a hundred percent good Russian Orthodox girl who turns the heads of the skinny Italian boys in the pizzerias we walk past. I ignore them, knowing I have her full attention. A bit further down the street, she whispers into my ear: “Those Italian guys looked at me, then they looked at you… I feel so safe with you.” We kiss.
Just a couple weeks before, I’d been texting Shana Mae while I watched Slim and his New Payday Loners jam at the Inn Termission in Pittsburgh’s South Side, in the back room of that narrow bar. The room has a vaulted ceiling with wooden beams and stained glass skylights, and about 20 people were spread around the place and Slim was his characteristic wiseass self, jokin a bit between songs.
“Thanks for comin out, folks. We’re happy to be here playin the Inn Termission’s Great Hall,” he says and laughs. Then he starts into Ring Of Fire and I text the name of the tune to Shana, as I chug on my beer and puff a smoke like I gotta finish them and run out, but I’m just feeling fast…
Slim and the band are makin a joyful noise and the acoustics are fine, and it surely helps that he is backed by Evan “Big Rock” Knauer on electric guitar, standup bass player “Mister” Craig Roberts, “Bossman” Shane McGraw on drums, “Spider” Bob Wentzel on tenor sax, “Uptown” Steve Browne on trumpet, and singers “Country” Don Bistarkey Perrone and the Gospel Girls: “Wailin Jenny" Safron and the “Queen of the High Cs” Melissa Ippolito. They roll into Ghost Riders In The Sky and it is haunting, magical and some tall yuppie-looking guy moves over in front of me, blocking my view, and he glances back at me. He looks like he works for a bank, with his close-cropped hair and habit of wearing a blazer when he’s out partying with his buddy, a guy who looks like a muscular “Hootie” of Blowfish fame.
I don’t hide my enthusiasm, hootin and hollerin “Yeah!” because I just can’t get enough of this guy and his band, who play like they’re in the Grand Old Opry instead of in the back room of a mostly empty Pittsburgh bar. I look around and, through an old reporter’s habit, I do a head count of the place and find that there are just 18 people in the back room, watching these folks play like pros. I can’t believe it, just as I couldn’t believe it when I first caught a Slim Forsythe performance months earlier, in Murphy’s Tap Room in Regent Square, where about a dozen souls were groovin on how talented these people are.
“I’d like to wish all the Sons and Daughters of Abraham a happy Rosh Hoshanah,” Slim says between tunes. “And may each and every one of us, have peace…”
He starts singing Peace In The Valley, with that harmony behind him so angelic, the musicians so perfect, it’s like everything is flowing right all at once. Tall yuppie blazer guy looks back at me incredulously, and shakes his head. I nod back at him, knowing what he means—amazing. After the song ends, yuppie guy is clapping as he says to me: “These guys are great!” I say I know, I see them every chance I get.
“I’m from New York, and just moved here… It’s been a long time since I’ve heard this kind of music,” he says. “My wife heard from a friend that he’s good, and she told me I should go see him… They are incredible. Will they play any old time stuff?”
Oh yeah just hang out, I say, as Slim and the Loners croon into Long Black Veil, and the Gospel Girls' high voices sharpen the poignancy of the sad tune. Yuppie guy shakes his head, smiling from ear to ear. I smile back, then text Shana the name of the tune. “He plays a lot of Cash,” she responds.
He plays with a lot of heart, too. A former lawyer, it wasn’t so long ago that Slim Forsythe was Kevin Forsythe, working in city government. But several years ago, the nickname he took for the stage overtook him, and he transformed himself into the schoolbus drivin, guitar playing cowboy from Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood. His second CD soon will be released, and those who know this country crooner recognize his real style and talent, and know he lives above Nied’s Hotel and that he has a song about it, too. He has created his country-playin character, and performs it very well.
I have my right arm around Shana’s shoulders and she has her left arm around my waist as we slowly walk down the street and head to a bar that pretends to be a pub, but which Shana calls “Irishy.” We are both playing our roles flawlessly—she’s the hot divorcee with the charms that can lure a man across the continent to see her. I am the Pittsburgh stud writer who has come all this way to claim her as my prize, acting as if I fully deserve her.
Inside the bar, she whispers to me: "You’re the best looking guy in this bar,” and I kiss her neck and her full lips and ask her if she’s sure she’s not Irish. She’s drinking a rum and coke and laughs at the suggestion, as I sip a Guinness. Then she tells me about how she visited Ireland, and all the guys in the bars thought she was Irish. She melds into a sweet, soft brogue:
"'So tell me Shana, are ya married?' No, I’d say. 'Who’re ya here with, then?' I’m here with my mother. 'Yer here with your mum? Lemme meet your mum… I’ll marry you.'"